ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Memphis Grizzlies

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Last season: After totaling up 56 wins in the regular season, the Memphis Grizzlies got sweet revenge over the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, then extinguished a short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder team before finally falling to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. This was the best season in franchise history by a large margin.

Signature highlight from last season: Tayshaun Prince invites you to bring your whole crew.

Key player changes:

IN: Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Jamaal Franklin, Nick Calathes.

OUT: Austin Daye, Darrell Arthur, Tony Wroten.

Considering the tiny amount of wiggle room the Grizzlies had under the luxury cap, there were some great additions made.

Kosta Koufos is one of the most underrated centers in the game, and he’ll mesh with Ed Davis and Zach Randolph much better than Darrell Arthur did. Nick Calathes has been one of the best players overseas the last few years, and getting a distributing backup point guard with size is another good fit. Jamaal Franklin could be scary in a few years if he stays glued to Tony Allen. There’s a lot of defensive potential there.

Mike Miller could be the biggest addition come playoff time, as the perimeter-shooting starved Grizzlies will welcome his presence as a floor-spacer when the games really matter.

The Grizzlies lost very little and made some very nice additions to the bench on the cheap. This might be the deepest team in the league.

Keys to the Grizzlies’ season:

1. Are the minor tweaks enough? 

The Grizzlies got better this offseason, but was it enough? Despite having one of the league’s best defenses last year, this was still a team that sputtered offensively late in the postseason and was just the 17th ranked offense in efficiency during the season. The Grizzlies have gone against the grain for a while now, but placing last in three-point makes and attempts might not be good enough to take out the best of the best when the defense really steps up in the playoffs.

2. What’s in the cards for Zach Randolph?

We know the Grizzlies front office isn’t afraid to trade a big piece after the Rudy Gay trade, and the tax concerns in Memphis are very real. Ed Davis is on tap for an extension or a big offer in restricted free agency next season, and keeping both Davis and Randolph on the books next year would be very difficult. Randolph is still a valuable piece, but he may be in decline and Memphis will lose leverage the longer they wait on a deal. Could another blockbuster be on tap this year?

3. Was the decision to let go Lionel Hollins for Dave Joerger the right one?

Hollins may not have always been on board with the decisions of the front office, but to his credit, his teams always defended and played hard. Joerger should be able to get the same from a veteran roster, but whether he can improve the sometimes baffling rotations and game-management in his first season as a head coach will be interesting to watch. Memphis was the league’s slowest team last season in pace, but Joerger has said repeatedly that he wants to speed it up. Will that turn out to be coach-speak or a real strategy that jump starts a below-average offense?

Why you should watch the Grizzlies: Marc Gasol is a bonafide basketball genius. Spend a whole game watching just him, and you’ll marvel at his positioning and decision-making. Tony Allen adds the perfect amount of unpredictability to a predictably stifling defense, and Mike Conley’s growing comfort level has led to more eye-popping plays. The Grizzlies are like a smart indie movie — the aesthetics may not always be on par with the competition, but it’s nuanced enough to be wholly enjoyable.

Prediction: 54 wins, the 4th seed and a second round exit. The Grizzlies are incredibly deep and will enjoy plenty of regular season success thanks to that defense, but the possible decline of the starting forwards (Tayshaun Prince and Zach Randolph) and the strength at the top of the Western Conference might make a deep playoff run difficult. Once we see what the Grizzlies do at the deadline, if anything at all, we should have a better idea of their playoff outlook.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.

Magic reveal orange uniforms

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It’s already difficult enough to flip on an NBA game and quickly determine which team is which. The home team could be wearing any color, so the same is true of road teams. Each team has had so many alternate jerseys in recent years. It’s disorienting.

Now, the Magic – whose primary colors have always been and remain blue, black, white and gray – might be wearing orange?

At least Orlando, because of the fruit (and, I guess, if you want to stretch it, sunshine), has a real connection to orange. That’s why these are the “orange uniforms,” even though they’re mostly gray.

I just beg of the powers that be: Please don’t have the Magic wear these against the Suns. I’ll never figure out which team is which.